Street Trash: Special Meltdown Edition (US - BD)
Gabe revisits this melting hobo 'classic' on gloriously remastered Blu-ray disc...
In the sleazy, foreboding world of winos, derelicts and drifters in lower Manhattan, two young runaways – eighteen-year-old Fred (Mike Lackey) and his younger brother, Kevin (Mark Sferrazza) – live in a tire hut in the back of an auto wrecking yard. Life is hard, but the most lethal threat to the boys is the mysterious case of ‘Tenafly Viper’ wine in Ed’s liquor store window. The stuff is forty years old… and it’s gone bad. Real bad! Anyone who drinks it melts in seconds and it’s only a dollar a bottle! (From Synapse’s original synopsis)
Usually, when a film sets out to be a cult classic, it crumbles under the weight of such ambition. Most cult classics are either genuinely great films with eccentric sensibilities or are accidentally enjoyable via incompetent, but usually heartfelt filmmaking. Street Trash is a special case – it foolhardily sets out to be a cult movie and succeeds because of the amazing craft on display. Writer/producer Roy Frumkes’ screenplay is certainly unique, but it’s trying awfully hard to please his limited audience and there’s little in it that could guarantee a successful cult reaction. Though usually dubbed a horror film, Street Trash is really a gross-out comedy in league with Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe, Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles, and the majority of John Waters’ filmography. Frumkes built the script around extensively grotesque set-pieces, not around a plot or characters, and the movie works best when playing out these imaginatively offensive sequences. These scenes stand apart from Troma Studio’s similarly nasty output (for yearsm I thought Street Trash was a Troma-produced film) because they are so well-executed, despite the film’s budget being really no greater than the average Troma Team release.
The film’s real all-star is James Muro, acting as camera operator as well as director, and who went on to be one of the most sought-after steadycam operators in all of Hollywood (his work can be seen in a wide range of films, including Dances with Wolves, Terminator 2, Titanic, and X-Men 2). Regardless of your opinion of the subject matter there’s no denying Muro’s technical skills. He sets the stage with a bravado foot chase sequence that starts when Fred the Hobo steals a vial of liquor and runs through the city, causing car accidents and stealing further contraband, eventually scaling up a fire escape ladder and through a burning hotel – all the while, Muro runs speedily alongside with his steadycam. Soon after, the audience gets their first glimpse at one of the film’s celebrated ‘meltdown’ scenes. These revolting sequences feature outstanding prosthetic effects and are punched up with the brand of creative visual embellishments only a great camera operator can deliver (Muro uses a POV shot as a man’s head is smashed through his windshield, complete with the frames of poor sod’s glasses and later spins the camera slowly on its vertical axis to show us both the melt victim and Fred’s reaction without a cut). The gore itself is hyper-colourful, as if the characters are oozing ink and paint, rather than vital bodily fluids. I distinctly recall not liking the tie-dyed gore the first time I saw the film, but it has really grown on me over the years and continues to set Street Trash apart from similar features. The wonderful irony is that the revoltingly filthy images are photographed so beautifully that they aren’t even disturbing – they’re joyful. It looks as if Muro shot on the streets of the Ralph Bakshi version of Toon Town.
The energy dips extensively when the comedy is being built around character beats instead of gooey set-pieces. The more extended, raunchy dialogue scenes, the credit for which is divided between the actors and Frumkes, are usually more obnoxious than funny. There’s also a lack of character definition, which isn’t usually a problem for trash comedies, but so much energy is spent giving people extended, unfunny diatribes. The amateur cast isn’t really up to the task of making the unfunny dialogue sound any better, except perhaps Clarence Jarmon, who steals the movie during a scene where he’s stealing groceries, and the always dependable James Lorinz, who appears in an extended cameo. I’ll also admit that Bill Chepil figures out what he’s doing when the third act rolls around. I respect the nihilism of the comedy (there aren’t many movies that have a necrophilia scene and a scene where hobos play a game of keep-away with a penis, and even fewer where the two scenes overlap each other), but find most of the talkier scenes rather boring and the episodic structure a little exhausting, especially after the shock value of the first viewing has worn off.
Any lingering questions as to Synapse Films’ commitment to releasing quality products were answered back in May, when company president Don May Jr. released a lengthy press release, explaining that the Blu-ray release of Street Trash would be delayed due to problems with the HD transfer. Apparently, when the film was last scanned, there were problems that were hidden in the DVD release’s lower resolution (even though that re-master was supervised by star restoration guru Robert A. Harris). While re-mastering the footage for HD, May and his colleagues noticed that some detail information had simply disappeared when the mastering facility had taken it upon themselves to institute various digital filters. The best part of the story was that May had posted a bunch of images comparing the faulty re-master to the original material and, even as he described the issues, it was nearly impossible to tell the difference between most of them. Not only does the boss and Synapse care enough about this stuff to hold back a release – he has incredible eyes for artefacts and inconsistencies.
So how does the redone transfer look? Pretty great, it turns out – much better than anyone would ever expect something as grimy as Street Trash to look outside of the original 35mm exhibitions. This 1080p transfer, which has been slightly reframed from 1.85:1 to 1.78:1, is swimming in detail, from minute surface textures to complex, deep-set patterns in the wide-angle shots. The highly detailed edges are much sharper than expected without more than a touch of haloing. The contrast levels of the more complex details are also nicely tweaked without crushing the blacks or creating major hot spots. The colour quality, which is particularly important to this film, is incredibly vivid. The dirt and grime of the cartoonish homeless life is constantly flecked with eclectic and poppy acrylic hues that remain tight, despite their searing vibrancy. There’s a hair of bleeding in the brightest reds and some minor moiré patterns in some of the cooler hues. Grain levels appear natural, though a few of the darker sequence have an obvious uptake and some shots have small issues with sheet effects. I don’t see any signs of substantial DNR, nor do I see any major CRT noise effects. I did notice slight warping at the top of some of the splices, but these are merely flashes of imperfection.
This Blu-ray carries over its audio choices from the ‘Meltdown Edition’ DVD, including the (then new) 5.1 remix and the original 2.0 mono, both of which are now presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. For the sake of review, I stuck with the 5.1 track for the bulk of the runtime. The extra stereo and surround enhancement is rarely used for directional effects, but does widen the basic feel of the track. Unintended phasing effects are a clear issue during the liveliest moments, specifically during Bronson’s Vietnam-fueled nightmare sequence. Here, the discrete channels help separate the gun and explosion sounds, but the dialogue and music jitters from center to stereo as the effects are broadened. The LFE enhancement helps deepen the overall aural impact of the mix, but also causes some warbling issues when the sound is layered too heavily. The dialogue is a mix of sound recorded on set and very obvious ADR. Problems arise when the set-recorded dialogue disappears behind the music and when the ADR, which is usually much cleaner, doesn’t match the sound of the rest of a scene. Both were likely issues with the source material and I’m not sure much could be done. The mono track is much tinnier, but the quieter dialogue is usually easier to make out, so it’s difficult to recommend one track over the other. The mix works best when the dialogue becomes one with the music, especially during the meltdown sequences, where hobo screams and weirdo electronic noise bleeds out into the stereo and surround channels to create a more expressionistic soundscape. Rick Ulfik’s music gets the biggest boost from the 5.1 and is mostly made up of standard, late-‘80s synthesizer work, though it does include some surprisingly complex woodwind arrangements.
This release is labeled as the ‘Special Meltdown Edition’ and, as such, features all the extras from the DVD carrying the same title, starting with Roy Frumkes’ commentary. Frumkes is full of info, which he doles out at a speedy pace, though his tone is a bit reserved. I found this track was less valuable as a history of the film, since the documentary on this disc covers almost all of the same stuff, and more valuable as a lesson in making/marketing a good-looking cheapo exploitation film. Frumkes also does a good job pointing out the stuff that was not in his original screenplay. Then there’s director Jim Muro’s commentary. Muro is curiously missing from all the other extras here, except for some archival footage. I’m not sure if he and Muro had a major falling out or if he’s just too busy these days. This track is a decent companion piece to Frumkes’ track, because it’s more technical, but it’s really too bad the two didn’t record together, because Muro fills a lot of his blank space by naming actors and describing the on-screen events.
This brings us to the disc’s prime special feature, The Meltdown Memoirs[I] (2:04:00, SD), a feature-length (longer than the film, even, though three minutes are ‘intermission’) documentary made by Frumkes. It’s a retrospective look at the film’s long production history, including discussions about Frumkes, Muro, and Lackey meeting in film school, Frumkes’ screenplay, the short film, financing, production design, storyboarding, casting (complete with audition footage), actor improvisation, make-up effects, stunts/fights, selling the film at Cannes, music, editing, the premiere, distribution, and the film’s success on home video. It also features plenty of raw behind-the-scenes footage, various outtakes/deleted scenes, and an extended prologue where the key staff tells us what they’ve been up to since [I]Street Trash. Interviewees include Frumkes, make-up effects artist/storyboard artist/actor Mike Lackey, Muro (in 1985), production designer Robert Marcucci, art director Denise Labelle, transportation captain/builder/actor Glenn Andreiev, make-up effects supervisor Jennifer Aspinall, director of photography David Sterling, production assistant Bryan Singer (yes, that Bryan Singer), Necromantik director Jorge Buttgereit, Combat Shock director Buddy Giovinazzo, make-up assistant Scott Coulter, rat wrangler Billy Gram, School of Visual Arts film chairman Reeves Lehmann, former Lightning Films director of distribution Dan Whitten, and actors Vic Noto, Nicole Potter, M D’Jango Krunch, Tony Darrow, James Lorinz, Clarence Jarmon, Phil Perlman, Mariam Zucker, Victoria Alexander, Bill Chepil, and Nancy Orlein Webber.
Up next is Muro’s original 16mm short film, which is also entitled Street Trash (15:10, SD). This ‘practice’ version isn’t particularly tightly edited, but you can see the seeds being set for the feature version, including better than average special effects and many of the same actors. The new, Blu-ray exclusive extras include an interview with Jane Arakawa (9:20, HD), who was missing from Meltdown Memories, and a collection of deleted scenes and outtakes, most of which can be seen in part in the documentary (7:20, SD). Things end with a promo trailer and a theatrical trailer.
Street Trash is a classic of sorts, but it clearly won’t appeal to all audiences. The people that know it will always love it and the people that haven’t seen it yet will certainly have an opinion about it. If you’ve ever watched Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case or Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock and said to yourself ‘Boy, I’d love it if someone would capture this gross side of ‘80s New York with real professional flare…and more colourful gore,’ then you absolutely need to see Street Trash. If you already love Street Trash, then you are in for a major treat with Synapse’s new Blu-ray edition. The picture quality is outstanding, better than many prestige movie restorations, the sound quality is as good as anyone could expect from the material, and the extras are quite extensive, including the DVD release’s commentaries and documentary.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 9th July 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: Writer/Producer Commentary, Director Commentary, Meltdown Memories Documentary, Original Street Trash Short, Jane Arwakawa Interview, Deleted Scenes/Outtakes, Teaser, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: James Muro
Cast: James Lorinz, Mike Lackey, Mark Sferrazza, Bill Chepil
Genre: Comedy and Horror
Length: 102 minutes
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